Why Everyone Should Know About Wabi-sabi
If you wander through the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, you’ll find the lovely Samovar Teahouse near a little waterfall. And if you sit there, they’ll probably give you a menu that looks like this. Wabi-sabi is a lovely thing to ponder over a warm cup of tea on a chilly day.
Buddhism teaches that all things have three marks of existence: they are impermanent, they are interconnected, and they will cause us to suffer. These are quite profound, I think, and have a lot more to them beyond the immediate impression they give.
Apply them to some of the larger things in your life: for example, work, relationships, and your future. Each of them probably have differing levels of these three characteristics. Where Buddhism and wabi-sabi intersect, though, is in the simple acceptance of them.
We are bound to feel uncertain about our direction (impermanence), we are going to feel misaligned if one area of our life is out of balance (interconnectedness), and all of this will certainly create varying levels of un-ease (suffering). That doesn’t mean we’re unhappy or pessimistic, it means that we’re human. We can’t side-step the difficult things we must face – nor must we pretend they don’t exist or respond to them meaninglessly (“This is probably for the best!” comes to mind). There is plenty we don’t have to accept or tolerate.
What Buddhism and wabi-sabi both suggest, then, is that when we know that the world is imperfect (which it so beautifully is) and when we recognize that it is forever shifting around us, we begin to know that the fluctuations of our life are all right. They are so all right, in fact.
Wabi-sabi won’t let you control everything or ward off hurt or anxiety or sadness or worry. It won’t stop you from getting hurt. Nor will it immediately launch you into a state of carefree happiness (“insouciance” is quite amazing word to consider here). There will still be times where you need a little help walking – lean on people then. And in those other moments, the ones where your shoulder is the one being held for support, be strong and there.
And through it all, take the occasional chance to sit quietly in a garden sipping tea and thinking about the beautiful imperfection that is shuffling around you.